Olympics: Bobsleigh's rapid starts power faded ex-world champ Bartoletta to long jump gold

Tianna Bartoletta of the United States won the women's long jump gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Tianna Bartoletta of the United States won the women's long jump gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Tianna Bartoletta believes a spell with the United States national bobsleigh team helped her rediscover the explosiveness that led to her long-jumping renaissance.

The 30-year-old stunned defending champion Brittney Reese to win the Olympic women's long jump final on Wednesday, taking gold with a monster leap of 7.17m.

It was the latest milestone in a remarkable comeback for Bartoletta, who won a world championship gold medal in 2005 only to fade from the international scene as she struggled to control her weight.

In the 2012 Olympics, she won a gold medal as part of the US's 4x100m relay team - but it was a stint as a bobsleigher later that year that was to prove pivotal in her return to the long jump runway.

"The bobsled was all about acceleration," Bartoletta said.

"So with that repetition, I was able to come back to the long jump because I had reacquired that muscle memory and learned to go that extra step faster," she said.

Bartoletta admitted at one point in her career she had effectively given up long jumping, ashamed to be struggling to reach even 6m.

"I wasn't jumping because I was overweight and not training properly," she said.

"I just couldn't jump any more. And it got to be embarrassing to be the 'Once Upon a Time' world champion who couldn't jump over six metres.

"So I focused on the sprinting and speed and that started to come back in 2012. And with a lot of encouragement from my husband and my coach, they made me believe I could come back."

Reese, who could only manage a best jump of 7.15m with her final attempt, won silver. Ivana Spanovic of Serbia took bronze with a national record of 7.08m.

Bartoletta had been a clear underdog heading into Wednesday's final, with 2012 champion Reese in the best form of her career this season, having jumped a world-leading 7.31m.

The latter, however, struggled to find her rhythm early on in the final, no-marking in three of her first four jumps before squeezing into the final rounds with a leap of 6.79m.

Reese looked to have cranked up a gear though when she produced a jump of 7.09m to take the lead on her fifth effort.

Bartoletta responded brilliantly regaining the lead with a leap of 7.17m.

With one jump left Reese could only manage 7.15m and Bartoletta had hung on for a fairy-tale gold.

Reese meanwhile, refused to be downcast by the loss, happy with a silver after two years where she was plagued by injury.

"I just couldn't get my stuff together," she said.

"After my surgeries I had a mental breakdown where I thought I might retire. So I'm just pleased to be here again."